This is my third night of observations at UKIRT and so far it has been hopeless: humidity 100% and wind speed almost constantly above 35 mph (the limit for keeping the dome open). Here’s a screenshot of the UKIRT and JCMT web cams when we arrived at the summit around 18:10.

UKIRT webcam and weather info on 20090517 18:55

UKIRT webcam and weather info on 20090517 18:55

Right now I am trying to do some beta-testing of the VISTA quality control database ingestion modules but I am being held back by an outage of the beanstalk subversion service I am using. I am on the free plan so I can’t really complain, also because they seem to be doing some kind of system upgrade, but tonight seems to be a bit of a bugger ! I’ll try to post another update later on if the weather improves and we start observing.


Hi there,
it’s 20:21 here in Hawaii. I am currently in the control room of UKIRT on Mauna Kea at 4200m above sea level waiting for the humidity to drop. This is actually my second night here and so far it has not been great ! The weather is actually not that bad but there are some low clouds occasionally coming up and causing the humidity to spike.

I was quite worried about this observing run because I’ve never been working at such a high altitude. I am quite pleased that so far it has been going pretty well: no headaches nor any sickness. I’ve even been doing quite a bit of coding for the VISTA quality-control database which is not really bad considering that some people have rushed down the mountain because they show either minor or major symptoms of AMS.

Tonight we had a great sunset. I managed to take a few pictures as well but I forgot the USB cable down at the hotel so I will not be able to add the pictures to this post. In the meanwhile, if you want to get a feeling of how’s life up here, with a funny twist, have a look at the Hotel Mauna Kea video produced by a visiting astronomer:

Very busy period on both my main work projects: the Gaia mission and the Vista public surveys.

For the Gaia project we have been experimenting a bit with Hbase and Hadoop to deal with the bulk of the observations. Unfortunately we don’t really have the right hardware to carry out some decent stress-tests, but we should still be able to get a rough picture to decide what to do next. We have quite a big hardware purchase coming up and we need to get it right because the budget is tight and the time before launch (Feb/Mar 2012) is closing in. Hopefully by the end of next week we should be able to complete a few test run and compare the results with similar test where all the data was handle by an Oracle 10g database.

For the Vista project I really need to finalize the relational model for the quality control database schema. The main structure is there, but unfortunately some important details of the processing software are not well defined yet so I am struggling a little bit. The implementation uses Hibernate for the ORM and a custom-made framework to configure what information need to be extracted from the astronomical images (FITS files). The design is quite sound although, if I had an infinite amount of time and patience, there are a few loose ends that I would like to improve.

As a side-project (given that I haven’t got enough on my plate) I’ve been playing with some very popular Web 2.0 apps in an unconventional way. I don’t particularly find them that useful or interesting for their original purpose, but I think I can get something useful out of them. And, if you are curious, no, it has nothing to do with useless flashy crap and bodged Apple-wanna-be cover-flow heavy-weight rubbish. Oops, I’m about to get into rant-mode… but it is really too late for this now. I simply get pissed off when I hear people waffle about Web 2.0 apps and then, when you really look at it, all they have done is to display a bunch of images in a fancy and rather user-unfriendly way. Ok, enough ranting for today, I’ve finished my wee dram and it is about time to get some sleep !